Ricardo Juncos came to America speaking no English and with no job in the wake of the 2001 Argentine depression. Fifteen years later, Juncos and his eponymous racing team are forces to be reckoned with, having won the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2010 and 2014, and the 2015 Indy Lights Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Here, Juncos talks about the reasons why he didn’t become a race car driver himself until the age of 20, his decision to leave Argentina for the United States – and the eight-year-old karting phenom who would take the Juncos Racing team to the top of the Mazda Road to Indy.
How did you become involved in racing?
I studied mechanical engineering and became a technician in the preparation of racing engines. I know how to complete a racing engine from scratch. I worked for the Peugeot team in Argentina when I was 20, but then I found enough sponsors to finally start racing myself. My brother Alex worked with me and I drove. I owe him everything because he was always there to support me.
We had a shop to work on street cars – engines, body shop, everything. We started small but we grew quickly. I can see the engineer’s point of view, and the driver’s.
What brought you to the States?
Argentina’s economy collapsed in late 2001, and we lost everything. We closed the business and I stopped racing. The only real option was the United States. I had a friend in Miami. I came for what was supposed to be two weeks, knowing no English. My first day there I found a job doing millwork.
Then I went to work for Christian Fittipaldi’s karting team as a mechanic. After a few months, I became the team manager. We won a championship in 2003 and it was great experience for me, to learn how to do business in the U.S., how to work with the employees and how to work in the karting world.
A few of the customers told me I should open my own team but I wasn’t sure. A friend of mine showed me how to open a company, which was so easy here. He helped me start a website and open a bank account.
We rented a warehouse in Miami that was next to a karting track. The first day we were there we had two drivers come to us wanting to race with us, including Sebastian Ordonez, who had done some Skip Barber. Spencer Pigot was our third customer, so he and Sebastian led the team. I remember meeting Spencer when he was 8 years old, and his dad Barry was running the team out of a U-Haul trailer. I could see that he was a good driver even at that age.
How did you expand into the open-wheel world of cars?
We won a lot of karting championships from 2003 to 2008 and grew quickly – at one point, we had 47 drivers. One of the drivers wanted to go to open-wheel cars and his dad came to me asking me to hire someone who knew about race cars – but we didn’t need to hire anybody, because I knew more about cars than karts.
We rented a karting track once or twice a week for the better part of 2008, to teach young karting drivers in an F1600 car, both on the driving side and the technical side. In 2009 one of customers bought a Star Mazda car so we entered that series. We won the championship in 2010 with Conor Daly and every year since then we’ve won races, and a few championships.
What does it mean to help develop drivers on the Mazda Road to Indy?
I really like the Mazda Road to Indy. It’s a spec series, so it’s up to you how you develop and set up the car. It’s also about driver development and I think we are big on that. We’ve done that since the karting days and I like working on the psychological aspect. We combine the development program together with the service we do for the customer. For example, Kyle Kaiser has been with us for three years, through Pro Mazda and into Indy Lights. He really has stepped up as a driver. He has learned all the technical aspects of racing and is able to really help us give him what he needs. He is an example that the program we have is working.
How did you end up in Brownsburg and now building a new shop in Speedway?
It wasn’t even my plan to move to Indianapolis in the first place. I came here to buy Indy Lights equipment and take it back to Florida, but I saw a warehouse for rent in Brownsburg and out of curiosity, called the number. It cost less than half of my shop in Florida, so I was able to get a shop twice as big for the same money.
We kept growing, and I looked for properties in Brownsburg but then I met the guys in Speedway. They really helped me make the deal. Everything happened so fast but everything just made sense.
Is the Verizon IndyCar Series in your future?
Everyone thinks that with the new shop, we’re going to go IndyCar racing but I don’t know yet. Yes, it is the goal, but it is a big step. I can’t do it by myself, it’s much more expensive. It has us thinking on another level, about investors and sponsors, but I won’t do it unless I feel it is right. We had the opportunity to do the Indy 500 this year, but we said no. If we move up, I have to make sure it’s something long-term. I also have to make sure the other series are still healthy. Pro Mazda and Indy Lights are plenty for the new shop, but we’ll be ready if everything aligns properly.
We are lucky. We are like a big family. We BBQ together, we help each other. Everyone has freedom in how they work. I want to have people here who have passion – I don’t push them, they push themselves and when you have that, you can fly very high. As a team owner, I do everything I can to help them but I am on the same level as everyone on the team. We succeed together.